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Will Qatar withdrawal from the Gaza mediation file allow Turkiye to play a greater role?

April 22, 2024 at 7:51 pm

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Prime Minister in Doha, Qatar on 17 April, 2024 [Murat Gök/Anadolu Agency]

On 15 April, Congressman Steny Hoyer issued a statement on his official website that included many inaccuracies about Hamas, Israel and the role played by Qatar in the crisis. In his statement, the Congressman threatened Doha that the US would reconsider the nature of its relationship with Qatar if it does not secure a satisfactory outcome for Israel, saying “If Qatar fails to apply this pressure (on Hamas) the United States must revaluate its relationship with Qatar.”

The Qatari embassy in Washington responded to the US Congressman’s statements, noting its surprise at his use of threatening language, explaining that the outcome of the negotiation rests with the two parties involved, reminding him of the nature of the Qatari-American relationship, as Qatar hosts the largest American base in the Middle East (10,000 American soldiers). It also reminded him that, with regard to Hamas and Israel, Qatar was asked to play the role it is currently playing, and that if he is keen to prevent the release of prisoners and hostages, he (i.e., the US) could request that the Qatari role be stopped.

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This is not the first time that such accusations have been directed against Qatar during the Israeli war on Gaza. In the first months of the war, a number of members of Congress, former officials and individuals loyal to Israel in Washington directed several threats to Qatar if it did not secure an agreement between Hamas and Israel, or rather, if it did not force Hamas to concede to Israel and meet all its demands. They also pressured the White House to take measures against Doha to ensure a satisfactory outcome for Netanyahu.

The American duality (requesting Doha’s help secretly and threatening or blackmailing it publicly) has angered Qatari officials, as the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, pointed out in his statement, shortly after his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan, during his visit to Doha two days ago, that his country is in the process of re-evaluating its role as the main mediator between Israel and Hamas. Sheikh Mohammed said, “We have seen insults against our mediation, and its exploitation for the sake of narrow political interests. This has caused Qatar to comprehensively review that role.”

The recent increase in the frequency of these US threats against Doha can be seen as a “good cop, bad cop” strategy, whereby the US administration allows pro-Israel voices in the US to criticise Qatar on the one hand while, at the same time, seeking Qatar’s help on the Hamas issue, on the other.

The American position creates a lot of confusion for both friends and allies alike. Such an approach further harms Washington’s image, reputation and credibility. Confidence in American policies and commitments in the region was at an all-time low before the Israeli war on Gaza, and has fallen to its lowest levels since then, but American officials appear to be unaware of the implications of this.

The main issue here is that neither the US nor Israel appear to be willing to reach a proper agreement with Hamas. Washington and Tel Aviv seem more focused on blaming someone and seeking favourable deals for Netanyahu to help him get out of his predicament. In such a context, Doha is unlikely to comply with such demands and, if pressure increases, the Qatari position is open to all possibilities.

If Washington truly wants Doha to continue mediating, it must publicly convey its unequivocal support for Qatar, stop malicious attacks against Doha and put pressure on Netanyahu to refrain from sabotaging and obstructing the negotiations. The toxic environment created by Israel and the Israeli lobby in Washington, and the duality of American officials, hinder progress in the negotiations and prevent the achievement of meaningful results, prompting Qatar to reconsider its role in the entire issue. Doha will not accept being told one thing behind closed doors, but told something else by American and Israeli officials in the media.

What if Doha withdraws itself from the mediation file? Would it allow other players, for example, Turkiye, to play a greater role in the file? Despite Turkiye’s ambitions to play a primary mediating role between Hamas and Israel, Israel and the US do not want Ankara to actively participate in the issue. As a result, Turkiye assumed a leading humanitarian and supportive diplomatic role rather than a primary mediation role.

This is clearly evident in recent developments, such as the active involvement of Turkish intelligence director, Ibrahim Kalin, in delivering sensitive messages between the concerned capitals following the escalation between Iran and Israel, and Hakan Fidan’s recent visit to Doha, during which he met with Ismail Haniyeh in a meeting that was said to have lasted over three hours. For now, Turkiye appears to be focused on strengthening international recognition of a Palestinian State, ensuring Palestinian unity and rallying support for a two-state solution.

Turkiye’s move to direct mediation between Hamas and Israel depends on the positions of the US and Israel. If Doha later decides to back down or halt all mediation efforts, Washington will have fewer positive options. While the US and Israel may seek help from Egypt allowing it to become the main player, Cairo does not seem keen on this for many reasons, including the blame directed at it by many Israeli and American officials and their claim that it is partly responsible for the 7 October attacks launched by Hamas. In such a scenario, Ankara may have an opportunity to participate directly, but so far, the chances of this seem slim.

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This article appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 20 April, 2024. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.